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Monday, April 20, 2020

Performing Arts Review

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Conjuring many forms of storytelling in the Critical Mass performing showcase

Early in March, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council hosted one of the final live events to take place in Shreveport, as cities around the country were tightening restrictions on public gatherings due to the international pandemic. The Critical Mass performing arts showcase was limited to friends and family of the artists, who cheered on both the familiar faces and the newcomers.

Poetic X took a new approach to his spoken word poetry by teaming up with an American Sign Language interpreter. This pairing is unusual due to the art form’s rhythmic, often extemporaneous nature. Unfortunately, the poet’s false start into the wrong poem seemed to make this performance unrecoverable. Here’s hoping this was just a first attempt, not a final one for this poem.

ML Dumars mixed storytelling with aspects of performance by weaving together a story of her family, past and present. She took the audience on a journey starting with her ancestors, who were never slaves; but, as she pointed out, they were never truly free either. She framed the story with music, a reminder of the rhythms that were created and kept in the cotton fields.

Willie James used theater to interrogate the idea of love. In the performance, his character therapized his past, walking the audience through a string of former lovers and where they went right or wrong. It toed the line between fact and fiction. Perhaps too much by showing pictures of his actual daughter, alongside images of fabricated girlfriends.

Dianne Gosslee presented her picture book as performance. The book tells a rhyming story about mother earth facing the destructive habits of humans, alongside Gosslee’s paintings of various space scenes.

Kershauna Johnson brought an edge to her hip-hop poetry, philosophically musing about the etiquette she sees missing from contemporary life and the nostalgia she feels for her grandmother’s white house. She warned, in her lyrically detailed performance, that “I’ve been working on my left,” offered that she likes her Scotch neat and lamented never developing a crossover dribble, which kept her out of the WNBA. Still, she pointed out, “I did make it to 30, no kids.”

Singer-songwriter Joanie Nerrettig, a finalist last year, delivered three urgent folkrock tunes with catchy melodies she penned after returning to Northwest Louisiana in 2014, including one about a flirtatious yardman and another about her sister. Nerrettig’s voice, an alto, is full of husky, at times raspy, personality.

LaToya Foster performed in American Sign Language to a recording of Enya’s take on the children’s song “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Did she invent a new genre? It looked like a cross between dancing and conducting an orchestra.

By any means necessary, Tipsey the Band is out to entertain. So, after playing a funky love song, frontman Ricky Latt walked up to a woman in the audience and put a ring on her finger. The crowd was convinced, but sources say it was a ruse—anything for a show.

Rachard Dennis won the $2,000 commission from SRAC based on the chill, confident vibe he and sidekick Moni created while singing and rapping in front of a pair of mirrors. “You can hold your applause, I’m just here to bare my soul,” he intoned with a dash of cool irony. Smooth and oh, so mellow, they created quietly charismatic theater about what it’s like to be young and hip.

Manny Mendoza is a career journalist who has written about the arts, culture and media for almost 30 years. From 1992 to 2006, he was a staff critic at The Dallas Morning News and now works as a freelance writer. Lauren Smart is an arts writer and critic based in Dallas, Texas. She is on the faculty of the division of journalism at Southern Methodist University.

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